Lent 6b - Palm Sunday
Preached: April 1, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus is Philippians 2
Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the nature of God, did not consider being equal to God a prize to grasp but instead emptied himself, taking the nature of a servant when he came in human likeness, and being found in manner as a man, he humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8).
This is the word of our Lord.
Would you have sat through school if you could have known it all without being there? How many difficulties of life would you avoid if you had the foresight and the strength to do so? What would you do if you won the lottery?
But now consider Jesus. In Luke 2, the Evangelist looks back on Jesus’ childhood, especially when he visited the temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Luke writes that Jesus was obedient to his parents and that he grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:51, 52). Do you see how remarkable those words are? It’s so easy to see the humanness of Jesus that we figure he’s suppose to obey so what’s the big deal. We fail to contemplate how profound that obedience to his parents was and how even more profound his obedience in the week ahead of us, Holy Week, is. Today let’s contemplate Christ’s obedience.
First consider where Jesus came from. The Apostle describes Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God” (Philippians 2:6 NIV1984). You know that truth well. Jesus is your God. We’re so use to saying it that we forget to contemplate it. Jesus has God’s nature. He has all of God’s characteristics. That boy Jesus knew all things. Yet he chose to learn like any other child would have to grow and learn. That boy Jesus had all power and authority. Yet he chose to obey his parents as all child are to obey their parents.
It seems that at times we take the truth that Jesus is God and misuse it to diminish how remarkable his obedience was. At least, I’ve caught myself thinking like this: “Yes, Jesus obeyed his parents, but what was so hard about that? He was perfect, since he’s God. If I were perfect, I wouldn’t have any problem obeying.” But consider what that means that he is God. He knew so much more than his parents. He clearly understood why he was here on earth better than his parents understood. As God, he was so much greater than his parents, so much more powerful, so much wiser. All authority belonged to him, yet he obeyed them. Do you begin to see how profound that is? To make a comparison, he was superior to his parents like we’re superior to a worm. And how many of us would freely choose to obey a worm?
“But he was just a boy!” someone might object. But this boy, dear friends, was God, the Son of the Father. All that belonged to God, belonged to him, all the power, all the authority, all the rule, all the dominion -- everything. Look at the heights he came from. He was equal to God in every way, because he is the Son of God. Yet he did not grasp this equality as a prize to be held on to; rather, he “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7 NIV1984). Contemplate Christ’s obedience.
Would you have sat through school if you could have known it all without being there? Jesus emptied himself of the full use of his knowledge, so that he would grow in wisdom and stature like any other boy, like you and me. He set aside the use of his divine majesty and took on the nature and character of a servant, an obedient servant. How remarkable when we consider the heights from which he came!
And how unlike the first Adam, our forefather! God had created Adam and Eve in his own image. They were already holy like him with theirs heart and mind in perfect sync with his will. But when Satan said they could be like God knowing good and evil, they wanted more than what God had given them. They wanted to grasp at that equality with God, claiming it for themselves. So they reached out and took from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, from which God had commanded them not to eat. They disobeyed by grasping for that equality with God that they had no right to have.
But Jesus obeyed by not displaying that equality that was rightly his. He obeyed as a servant from the moment of his conception on. Consider to what depths he went.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself to death -- even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8 NIV1984). Contemplate such obedience, dear friends. That’s why he road into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. That’s why he was born in Bethlehem. That’s why he came to this earth. To humble himself even death on a cross. Contemplate the depth of his obedience as you walk with Jesus this week from the upper room to Gethsemane, from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgatha. He didn’t call down those legions of angels when arrested, but told Peter to put away his sword. He didn’t come down from the cross when taunted by his enemies. He obeyed to the very end.
Contemplate Christ’s obedience and compare it to your own natural inclinations. None of us here have high positions of power and authority. But how do we use the limited power we do have. How often do you use the influence you have at home or work for your own personal gain? How often do we use the power of the money in our wallet to satisfy what I want? How often do we grasp at the opportunities within our reach to advance our own interests? Or just go back to that question we started with. If you could have skipped school because you already knew it all, what would you have been doing? How many of us would have spent the time pursuing our own versions of happiness? And that doesn’t even sound all that bad because that’s how deeply ingrained the sin of selfishness is. So often we’re blind to it, at least in ourselves.
That’s why we need the Savior Jesus, in whom there is no selfishness at all, as demonstrated by his perfect, selfless obedience. He made himself nothing, even though he is God over all. He lowered himself to death on a cross. He did that to pay for our selfishness and disobedience.
You know that the horror and dark depths of the cross go far beyond the physical torture and the public humiliation. The Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone hung on a tree” (Galatians 3), cursed by God. Yet how could God curse God? How could the Father forsake the Son? How could Jesus obey even to that point? What great wonders for you and me to contemplate this Thursday and Friday.
For you see, dear friends, he emptied himself in order to fill himself with our sinfulness. He became our sin. He suffered our curse. Your death and hell was there on Calvary. For Jesus became obedient to death, even death on a cross, for you, dear friend, for you. Contemplate Christ’s obedience, his obedience that counts as your record so that in him you have forgiveness and eternal life.
Contemplate Christ’s obedience and consider how you now, as his follower, as his disciple -- how you can imitate him.
The text began by saying, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 NIV1984). In the verses before the text, Paul described that attitude: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4 NIV1984).
This is also why we come and gather this Thursday and Friday to contemplate our Savior’s humble obedience. We come not only as a testimony to others of how important Jesus is. We come not only to honor and praise him for such a sacrifice he made to save us. We come not only to witness again the basis for our forgiveness so that the foundation of our faith and hope is strengthened. We come as well because as our faith witnesses his sacrifice for us, his humble obedience moves us to serve one another with that same attitude and mindset.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV1984). How impossible that is unless you know Jesus! But when you do know Jesus, you know that all is right between you and God, for on that cross Jesus was cursed instead of you. That’s why you, dear Christian, can put the eternal interests of others first, because God has placed you first, even before his own Son. Look at what Jesus endured for you; don’t you think he’s going to be taking care of you? So why run after your selfish ambitions or vain conceits?
If all we needed was a role model for humble obedience, any number of historical or fictional figures would work. We wouldn’t need to spend too much time thinking about Jesus because a mere example is easy to see and then it’s just a matter of trying hard. Even unbelievers can try to follow the example of Jesus. But Paul is doing so much more as he holds before us Christ’s obedience, did you catch that?
For one, examples deal with outward actions, Paul is talking about a change of attitude, a new mindset, a new heart. A quick glance can show us the actions, but only a continuing gaze will let the change penetrate into our own heart. But even more so, as Paul presents Jesus here, see him forgo his divine right and majesty for you. See him emptying himself to be a servant for you. See him lowering himself becoming obedient even to death on a cross for you. The more you contemplate the fullness of this Good News the more it penetrates your heart renewing your mind and transforming your attitude. “Jesus did that for me. Why do I think I need to worry about myself? Jesus is taking care of me. So I can take care of others. I can serve them and leave my interests and ambitions in Jesus’ hands.” Contemplate Christ’s obedience. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.